Can a Woman Be Safe in India?

Everyone has had their say on sexual harassment in India, and it’s time to speak my mind.

But where do I even begin? Do I start with the old villager who groped between my legs when I was about 7 or 8, while I was made to sit on his lap in a crowded bus? Or the hand that slid up my legs as I pushed & shoved to get into a bus on my way to college? Or the middle-aged man who stood with his genitals stuck against my head as I sat in a crowded bus? Or the youngster that hit me in my chest as he sped by on his bicycle, leaving me stunned, helpless, and in pain on a main road? Or the youth who took pictures of me on his mobile in a shop, no one coming forward to help or defend me when I shouted back in anger at him? Or the 4 men who pressed against me at a counter in a Railway Station just a few weeks ago, pretending there was no place for them to stand and looking blankly ahead as if they couldn’t hear me when I shoved them aside with my handbag & yelled at them?

There are way too many incidents to even recall – I could probably write an entire novel of them if I set my mind on it! And what’s sadder still, is that I’m pretty certain every other Indian woman has her own story to tell.

I don’t think I have to point it out any more than the media already has. The female gender, irrespective of age or location, is simply not safe in India. Period.

There are others who argue that stuff like this happens everywhere in the world. Yes, it does. But surely those who support this argument don’t mean to say that just because sexual abuse and rape take place all around the world, it’s the right thing to do, do they? For my part, let me just say this… As an Indian woman, I can only make a noise about what happens in my country. That is my right. That is my responsibility. If the women of other nations feel similarly, by all means, let them make the noise they need to. But please don’t try to subdue the few bold women of India who do make a noise, because they are the only ones with guts enough to make a positive difference.

It’s funny how some who are unwilling to let go of their egos and actually take responsibility or make an effort to create a better environment for future generations find the easy solution – the blame game! Women should dress properly, women should be respectable, women should this, women should that…! Well, how about the men? Shouldn’t men have the basic sense to behave decently and keep their private parts where they belong? Aren’t all men in India supposed to be my “brothers” and show some chivalry towards me? How long more will these imbeciles keep blaming women for the atrocities they commit and get away with, while the victims are scarred forever?

The majority agrees that justice is needed. Arrest them, hang them, castrate them for all I care! But to be honest, that does not entirely solve the issue for me. Sure, it may send the right signals out to other perpetrators with such intentions, but I am not entirely sure that it will curb what we have quite subtly come to know as “eve-teasing”. As if it were something so negligible and bore such little significance! Let’s just call it what it is, shall we – sexual abuse!

What then? As a parent, how can I not worry about the safety of my little girl beginning kindergarten? As a young student, how can I hang out with friends and not have to hear catcalls and derogatory comments? As a working woman, how can I have the freedom to go wherever my job requires without the fear of being accosted and raped? As a woman who is getting married, how can I be sure that my future husband and in-laws will not torture me if I am not able to give them the dowry they want? Is it really even possible for a woman to be safe in India? Is an arrest, a life or death sentence meted out to a few sufficient to guarantee my safety in the country?

After the last incident I encountered, I debated this issue at length with my husband (I should say I am SO blessed to have such a wonderful man as my husband!). As a human and a woman, my gut reaction tells me I should have punched those men in their faces, or better still, kicked them in their groins. But perhaps such men are perverted enough to even get cheap thrills out of that too! I can’t seem to think of anything good enough that will violate these men – no, savages – in equal proportion to the way they so brazenly violate other women! But on the other hand, I realize these rogues are human too. What would I see if I could see them how God sees them? No, I am NOT recommending anyone hug a violator and tell them, “God loves you, my brother!” But would God show His love to such a person with a smack in the face and kick in the groin, I wonder? I honestly don’t have the answer.

So can a woman be safe in India? Yes, I personally believe so. How? Mindset change? Partly yes, but mostly because I believe in the people of India, and I KNOW we that when we set our minds on anything, we can achieve it. We have done so in the past, and I know we can make our nation a better place for the future. The answer lies with us… with each one of us… with me. Yes, it is possible for a woman to be safe in India, if I am willing to be responsible in some way. How, you ask? As with anything, little drops make a mighty ocean. So begin small. Ask yourself what you can personally do to make India a safer place? Here’s my own list, I’m sure each one can come up with their own:

  1. Respect myself as a woman. We have grown up in a society that belittles and demeans women so much, that this is something many of us have to learn to do.
  2. Be as safe as I possibly can! Don’t put myself in compromising circumstances or venture out to lonely, questionable locations alone. And dress appropriately. Yes, India is a developing nation with a mixed culture, and women must have the freedom to be who they are. But with freedom also comes responsibility. If I dress cheap, people are going to treat me cheap – not just in India, by the way!
  3. Prepare myself mentally & physically to deal with such encounters. Think of possible responses, getaways, people to call, places to run to for safety. Learn self-defense if I must.
  4. Be on the look out for other women who may be in need, and don’t be afraid to support them. In all of the incidents ever heard, every woman complains that no one came to their help and people just walked by. The only way that can change is if I myself am willing to help. Don’t be the one who turns their face the other way and pretends like they didn’t see or hear anything. Be the one to step in and help! Remember the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall.”?
  5. Teach little children, youth, and friends alike about “good touch” and “bad touch” and what they must do if and when they receive a “bad touch” from anyone. God knows this alone could save millions from the shame, fear, guilt, horror and embarrassment they go through after such traumatic incidents.
  6. Educate myself about all the reputed women and child safety organizations in the state and country as well as laws that safeguard me. Knowing this information could be a lifesaver for someone in need.
  7. As a parent, teach one’s boys to respect girls and not treat them as objects, and teach one’s girls they are just as valued as the boys. Don’t give preferential treatment to the boys. As a father, treat one’s wife respectfully. As a mother, honor one’s husband. Nothing can change “mindset” like an example well set!
  8. As a parent whose son is getting married, don’t ask for or accept a dowry or “gift”. As a parent whose daughter is getting married, refuse to give one’s daughter to a man who demands a dowry. After all, isn’t this the main reason why female infanticide is so high in India, and girl babies are discarded like trash?

These are my 8 little drops in the mighty ocean. What are yours?